Sunday, July 27, 2014

Technology Implementation, why it sometimes fails, and some suggestions for success.

For a teaching professional that is fortunate enough to have the summer away from work, it is a time for rest... and more importantly... reflection. For me, I do rest, I do reflect, I do some work... and I also read. Sometimes what you read causes you to reflect... and this article posted to Twitter by one of my former colleagues and one of the people I would call a mentor... is one for reflection. 

The article obviously has a mathematics slant to it but it can apply to any implementation, for any course, and at any grade level. Take the time to read the article carefully, it outlines a path to success for implementation and it clearly outlines why it fails. In this blog I am going to attempt to outline things from the perspective of technology implementation.

1) Before you start implementation: Teacher Input

This is where failure can occur before implementation even starts. If teachers are your end users then they need to be brought into the selection and discussion before implementation even starts. This year, for the first time in this province, a junior high student at home was taught by his English teacher while simultaneously teaching students in her face to face classroom. The teacher had concerns... and rightly so. This was going to eventually fall on her shoulders. In many implementations the first step would have been to show the teacher the tool to be used and start the training. Instead we took the approach that our first contact would be to sit with the teacher involved, pitch the idea... and then listen to her concerns. What she identified as concerns eventually led us to conduct a privacy audit and the development of the necessary documentation to be signed so communication/awareness/consent was complete. When the time eventually came for the showing of the tools to teach virtually, we showed the teacher options and let her choose what she thought was the best one, which incidentally was our preference too. 

When choosing a technology, if you involve teachers in the selection process you then have advocates to draw upon when you expand upon implementation. Advocates on the ground are extremely important as they will help with the narrative that will be heard by teachers as implementation occurs. In the absence of any narrative that comes from knowledgable people, many narratives will still be communicated, causing confusion and misinformation. Involving teachers in the selection process will also allow potential issues, concerns, and problems come to the surface before they become real issues, concerns and problems. 

2) During Implementation: Initial Inservicing and Being Available

If you hand a teacher a piece of technology and that's it... then that, unfortunately, will most likely be it! The software will most likely not be installed and the hardware placed back on the shelf or in a storage closet. Teachers are busy people. Some love the challenge of figuring things out on their own, while others may not have that extra time to do that. So initial inservicing is an absolute must. The train the trainer model can work... but it's failure sometimes comes from 1) Not allocating the same time for teachers to be trained as the trainer had and 2) Not allocating the time for the trainer to prepare for their training sessions. If those potential pitfalls are avoided, initial inservicing with the train the teacher model can be very effective. 

I remember years ago when I first started teaching in Labrador and encountered the TI graphing calculator technology. When students ended up in menus I could not get them out of, I'd simply pop the batteries from their calculators. But, after a week of intense training from TI, I knew the technology very well. Unfortunately I did not get the same amount of time to present to others. As a result, their proficiency level never reached the level it could have.

Now the biggest failure in technology integration, in my opinion, comes next. It's in the follow up or follow through. Wherever possible, follow up inservicing should take place. For some, once is enough, for others, they will need to see it more than once. When traveling to Nova Scotia over the years as they implemented the TI-Nspire, I noticed that there were participants in what was essentially the same session. It was in one of those sessions that a participant came to me and said "I finally get it". It may take multiple sessions to achieve clarity; that has to be taken into any implementation. Also keep in mind that new teachers enter our system, oftentimes not being exposed to these technologies during their teacher training. Follow up inservicing can cover off this successfully.

In addition, people who are proficient in the technology need to be available for support to teachers after the initial implementation has taken place. I remember that when I was in Labrador I received many calls at home from teachers needing help on the integration of the TI-83. I took the calls because I knew that to answer the questions as they came up, whenever they came up, alleviated frustration and would result in successful implementation. There were even times when I took my handheld calculator to sports tournaments I was helping supervise because I knew that I would get questions. I was glad actually because it let me know that teachers felt I was approachable to get answers to questions they had. 

As a part of initial implementation there has to be a person or people for those that are learning to contact for assistance. That person or people need to be approachable, sympathetic, patient and extremely knowledgeable in the technology. Teachers have to feel like their questions are valid ones, and not to feel belittled for asking them.

3) Post Implementation - Learning Community

After the technology has been purchased and implementation is done, whether wide spread use of the technology occurs will depend upon the formation of a learning community where ideas, questions and resources and can be shared. When looking at this concept I look back on joining the ESDNL Smartboard conference in First Class. It had numerous members who shared links, resources and answered questions related to troubleshooting, etc... ideally what one would want a learning community to be. When new teachers join these learning communities, they have immediate access to resources and expertise, a valuable asset for any new teacher and for a district wishing to support them.

From a provincial perspective we have the ability to create these learning communities for just about any implementation we do. All teachers are under the new province wide instance of First Class now which will make the asynchronous component of learning communities so simple to set up. Further to that every teacher in the province now has a Microsoft Lync 2013 account. With it any teacher, wherever they are in the province, can contact synchronously with any other teacher. Video, audio, application sharing features are all included in Lync 2013 and accessible using mobile technologies too. 

For fall 2014, my role will involve helping teachers with increased use of First Class and Microsoft Lync 2013 for the creation and expansion of such learning communities. Of course, the above three points are always a part of anything I do. Ignoring them can result in teacher frustration and lack of use. In short, failure.


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